Magdalene nuns refusing payment had assets of €1.5bn

Most of the assets comprise property and buildings

The exterior of the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene laundry on Sean McDermott St in Dublin. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

The exterior of the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene laundry on Sean McDermott St in Dublin. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Thu, Jul 18, 2013, 10:29

The four religious congregations that have refused to contribute to the compensation fund for residents of their former Magdalene laundries had combined gross assets worth €1.5 billion when the last comprehensive assessment of their financial resources was made in 2009.

However, most of the assets comprise property and buildings in use as schools, hospitals, facilities for health and disability services, making it impossible for the value of the assets to be realised. Some of the assets are held in trust, making transfer problematic. With the property market depressed, 2009 values no longer stand, and attempts to dispose of land have not been successful.

Yesterday Taoiseach Enda Kenny accepted in the Dáil that the orders could not be compelled to pay, and that moral persuasion would have to be applied. There have been calls for the four orders be stripped of their charitable status.


Sisters of Mercy
The country’s largest order, with 2,000 members, founded by Sr Catherine McAuley in 1834, has played a central role in educational provision. In 2009 it had total property assets of over €1 billion. Some €660 million related to schools in use, €60 million to a hospital in use; the value of congregation residences was €200 million and a further €70 million related to other services.

It had €182 million in financial (non-property) assets but it argued that providing for the care of its members as well as funding its core services would account for all of that.

The order ran two of the Magdalene laundries, in Galway and Dún Laoghaire. The Government requested the order to sell all the properties (valued at €11.6 million) it offered to the statutory fund for institutional survivors. As of the last report six weeks ago, it had paid more than €1.6 million.
Sisters of Charity
Founded in Dublin by Mary Aikenhead in 1815, the Sisters of Charity are associated with education and healthcare, and founded St Vincent’s Hospital. With about 250 members in its Irish province, it had some €266 million in assets in 2009, virtually all of which was restricted or committed to provision of services or welfare of its elderly members.

A €5 million offer was made to the statutory fund in 2009 but only €2 million was paid. The order said it could not afford to hand over the remaining €3 million because of the downturn in the property market. It ran two Magdalene laundries, one in Donnybrook in Dublin and the other in Peacock Lane in Cork.


Good Shepherd Sisters
Founded in France in 1835 by St Mary Euphrasia, this order ran four laundries: in Waterford, Wexford, Limerick and Cork. With a little over 100 members it is a small order which now concentrates on sheltered accommodation and social housing. With colleagues from Our Lady of Charity Sisters, it runs Ruhama, the outreach and advocacy services for women in prostitution.

Its asset base was €30 million in 2009, all but €3 million of which was restricted or committed to services or welfare.
Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge
It ran two laundries in Dublin: Drumcondra and Gloucester Street. The order focuses on residential care and social work for women. It had 31 members in Ireland in 2009, with an average age of 78.

Its total asset base in 2009 was €60.2 million, of which €43 million was in financial assets. Some €26 million of this was committed to running its nursing home and residential hostels into the future. It did offer land near the Phoenix Park to the OPW in lieu of cash five years ago, but that offer was declined by Cabinet.